Looking back at history of Elbert County's Independence site

Land where community is being built has rich past

Chancy J. Gatlin-Anderson
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 7/2/21

The land and homestead structures where the Independence neighborhood is being built have a lively and rich history and add to our historical understanding of Elizabeth and Elbert County. The …

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Looking back at history of Elbert County's Independence site

Land where community is being built has rich past

Posted

The land and homestead structures where the Independence neighborhood is being built have a lively and rich history and add to our historical understanding of Elizabeth and Elbert County. The following is the first part of a two-part series on the homestead’s history as presented by Craft Companies.

“While we’ve shared the history of the Independence Neighborhood before, the first look into the rich history of the land was based on limited knowledge and artifacts acquired from our initial exploration of the property. Knowing there had to be more to the story with the land’s 120+ year heritage, we (Craft Companies) commissioned a research team from The History Quest to dive deeper into the historic lives of the families who lived here and document their discoveries for all to enjoy.

Much of the source material for their findings was researched online, as well as scouring local libraries, social clubs, historical repositories and elsewhere for accurate documentation to piece the timeline and family trees together. Additionally, researchers uncovered a treasure trove of personal belongings and information from the Bentley Homestead Park Collection, which aided their study. The following is an overview of the land’s history, the families who owned and ranched it, and how it came to be the amazing conservation community we know today as Independence.

The original Bentley Ranch was part of a community known as Hill Top (and later Hilltop), which today covers the Elizabeth, Franktown and Parker postal codes. Up until 1867, it remained a swath of largely forested area occupied by Indigenous Americans. With the passing of the Homestead Act in 1862, homesteaders began to make their way west, forming ranches, logging camps and sawmills across the plains and beyond. By 1874, Elbert County, as part of the Colorado Territory, was incorporated and divided into Douglas and Elbert counties. The only real connection Hill Top had to the surrounding communities at the time was the Denver and New Orleans Railroad (D&NO) which brought growth and commerce over time. In 1896, not long after the railroad’s introduction, a post office and general store were opened nearby, and Hill Top became a more substantial stop on the tracks between Denver and Pueblo.

As Hill Top continued its transformation into a more substantial community, a search back through an extensive family tree (eventually leading to the Bentleys) revealed a man by the name of John (Yohan) Demont, who laid down his roots in Hill Top around 1900. According to documents, he became well known in the community and surrounding areas for his skilled ranching and farming, cultivating crops of winter wheat and rye. It is believed he eventually purchased the land now known as Independence from one of the original homesteaders who was granted the plot by the Homestead Act of 1862. According to The Castle Rock Journal, John Demont married Theresa Urbascheck on February 27, 1900, and had a daughter, Marie “Mary” Elizabeth Demont, born on February 07, 1901. Their family lived and worked on the original homestead until Marie’s passing in 1980.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the family tree, Dick Bentley (born December 31, 1892), along with his parents, Grant and Maybell, moved from South Dakota to Elizabeth in 1910. As a young man, Dick spent much of his time working on the Demont (later Bentley) family ranch. While it’s unclear when he and Marie Demont first met, his frequent visits to her family’s property, along with letters the two sent each other, indicate he stopped by more often to see Marie than to merely work and collect his wages from her parents.

Marie and Dick Bentley married on April 15, 1920. After the wedding, Dick built a home for them on his family’s property featuring a modest floorplan resembling a typical two-room pioneer homestead house. There, in 1921, they had their only child, Grant Demont Bentley. In 1937, Dick, Marie and Grant moved back to the Demont ranch to help her parents work the farm ….”

Please look for the second part of the history of the Independence homestead in a future issue.

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